Best Of 2019

If there’s one thing Cincinnatians love more than a local brewery, it’s a local brewery with an outdoor drinking area — especially if that drinking area happens to be elevated (cough Rhinegeist cough). So when Braxton Brewing Co. announced a $5 million expansion plan in January, which includes a 5,000-square-foot rooftop deck, it just gave us one more reason to love the Cov and Braxton. The plan permits the brewery to ramp up annual production to 30,000 barrels to allow them to better serve beer drinkers locally and throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Renderings show astroturf, lawn games (aka cornhole), outdoor seating, string lights and fire pits plus a view of the city. The upstairs bar will pour Braxton brews and serve cocktails and the brewery’s new Vive hard seltzer. The rooftop is currently under construction and is expected to open in summer 2019. Braxton Brewing Co., 27 W. Seventh St., Covington, braxtonbrewing.com.

2. Arnold’s Bar & Grill

3. Hang Over Easy

4. The Eagle OTR

5. Northside Yacht Club

6. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

7. Higher Gravity

8. Taste of Belgium

9. Redwine & Co.

10. S.W. Clyborne Co.

Best Bloody Mary We’ll Miss

At the end of February 2019, The Anchor-OTR announced it was closing its doors after seven years of slinging super-fresh seafood to Cincinnatians at the corner of 14th and Race streets. It’s always sad to lose a favorite neighborhood haunt, and the loss of the Anchor will be felt quite deeply by fish fans … and bloody mary stans. The restaurant conjured up what might be the city’s most decadent drink via its Longshorman’s Bloody Mary. Named in homage of 1934’s “Bloody Thursday,” when longshoremen went on strike along the Pacific Coast, this drink balanced spice, acidity, sweetness and several sea creatures. The housemade base consisted of tomato juice, horseradish, pickle and olive juice, four different hot sauces, sugar, cayenne, garlic and a touch of umami with Old Bay seasoning. But it went big with the garnish, showcasing the Anchor’s fresh seafood with the option to add a lobster claw, shrimp or an oyster for an upcharge. It was big, bold and beautiful. And its loss is enough to shed a salty tear over.

It’s typically not too difficult to relax once you sit down with a pint in any brewery, but 3 Points Urban Brewery really upped the game by offering daytime coworking hours, similar to how people treat coffee shops as their remote work site. As early as 9 a.m. during the week, you can shuffle in, get a pint of their “Easy Ale” cream ale, or an Urbana Cafe drip coffee if the only buzz you need is a caffeine one, and do your work in the chillest of settings. The taproom is spacious and very open (with free Wi-Fi), so you can stretch your legs before the happy hour hustle is in full swing from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Predicated on three points — art, experience and beer — and located at the intersection of three points — Reading Road and Liberty and Main streets — Cincinnati artists interested in more exposure should also look up this brewery: 3 Points utilizes art produced by locals to promote each beer in their portfolio and also to decorate the taproom. The brand also just opened the adjacent fried chicken restaurant CHX, serving sandwiches, salads and “bantys” there or inside the brewery. Lunch hours are coming soon, so now you really have no excuse to leave. 3 Points Urban Brewery, 331 E. 13th St., Pendleton, 3pointsbeer.com.

Cincinnatians who are at least twice the legal drinking age may remember the omnipresence of Wiedemann Bohemian Special Pilsner cans at every family gathering back in the day. Well, “back in the day” is back, so to speak, as Wiedemann’s Fine Beer has reopened under new owners and a whole new recipe book. Betsy and Jon Newberry are responsible for reviving the brand and have converted an unlikely, elegant building in Saint Bernard into one of Cincinnati’s most charming taprooms. The space is on the bottom floor of the former Imwalle Memorial Funeral Home. Vintage Wiedemann signs wash the inner rooms with that comforting barroom glow only attainable from neon luminescence. The full kitchen offers enough to encourage an entire day to be spent sampling their modernized interpretations of Wiedemann beer, which began brewing in 1870. The original recipes did not come with the trademark acquisition, meaning the Newberrys — and brewmaster Steve Shaw from Cellar Dweller at Valley Vineyards in Morrow — had to come up with their own approach to the iconic brews. “We live in a city built on brands,” says Jon, “and we’re honored to be able to revive one of Cincinnati’s most-storied brands and keep it going hopefully for another 150 years.” Wiedemann’s Fine Beer, 4811 Vine St., Saint Bernard, wiedemannsfinebeer.com.

The day after Christmas, folks from Northside’s The Littlefield opened Branch, a global-inspired restaurant situated in the 1920s-era Central Trust Bank in East Walnut Hills. Their cocktails are named after financial terms, like Reverse Mortgage and Preferred Risk. Downstairs lurks a speakeasy-like bar, Night Drop. It has the same cocktail menu as upstairs, but the vibe is more chill. Accelerated Depreciation, one of several draft drinks, contains bourbon, orange bitters and a curious ingredient: Dr. Pepper syrup, which is extracted from a box of fountain soda Dr. Pepper (without carbonation). The sweet syrup offsets the strong bourbon flavor; then, the bartender adds smoke into the drink by torching a piece of wood. To make things even weirder, for weekend brunch they add the syrup to their super boozy Bloody Sunday Mary, which also contains vodka, gin, tequila, bourbon, lemon and a housemade bloody mix. Other creations include habanero-infused Green Chartreuse, fennel shrub and house-spiced gin. While you’re at Branch, make sure to snap a selfie in the owl-wallpapered bathroom. Branch/Night Drop, 1535 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills, eatatbranch.com.

With a name conceived as a playful homage to philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Frenchish brasserie Sartre OTR sits on the ground floor of the Rhinegeist building and serves up a changing menu of snacks, shareables and mains with a Parisian bistro sensibility. The food is good and interesting. Order whatever “beignet” is on offer; whether it’s sweet potato, butternut squash or Tillamook cheddar, it’s going to be fried, delicate and delicious. But if you don’t feel like investing in dinner, Sartre is a stupendous stop for several cocktails. The bar offers multiple communal seating areas with a shabby chic industrial Art Nouveau vibe, flattering lighting and plenty of space for you and several of your friends. The décor is transportive without artifice, just like the drink selection. The wine and whiskey lists are long, with an obviously healthy selection of upstairs neighbor Rhinegeist on tap, plus foreign beer in bottles. But the cocktails are the star. Their riff on a classic Negroni uses Cappelletti instead of Campari for a subtle sweetness, and their Geist Spritz plays on an Aperol Spritz with Rhinegeist Bubbles instead of prosecco. The Sore Wounded — rye, China-China, Cocchi Americano and cigar bitters — is served in a corked vial for a bit of apothecary flair. And the Monkey Gland goes full Belle Époque with absinthe and gin. If freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you, we say opt for a stiff drink. Sartre OTR, 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, sartreotr.com.

With a month-long celebration for most of the 2010s, Cincinnati has honored the legacy of King Records, the locally-based record company whose impact on everything from the music industry to the sound of popular music today cannot be overstated. Last year, the city-wide celebration of King’s outsized influence on American culture was even bigger due to it being the 75th anniversary of the label’s first recording session. King Records Month has been honored each September for the past six years, timed to when founder Syd Nathan put his plan to launch a record label into action, enlisting Country music entertainers Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis in 1943 to record the first music for the venture. For the 75th-anniversary edition of the celebration last year, the events (from musical presentations and film screenings to lectures and panel discussions) couldn’t be contained to September’s 30 days, launching Aug. 25 with “Celebrate the King: The Gala” at Memorial Hall, which featured video tributes, live performances and the doling out of Lifetime Achievement Awards to King greats Bootsy Collins, Henry Glover, Philip Paul and Otis Williams, with the artists and/or their family members on hand to participate in the commemorative festivities. Besides the 75-year tie-in, King Records Month 2018 was also different due the substantial progress being made in both preserving the original King site in Evanston and taking the spirit of King further in the 21st century. In April, the city of Cincinnati took control of the old King building from the property’s owners, who had been threatening demolition. Plans for the site aren’t concrete yet, but various local nonprofit organizations envision things like a museum, studio, educational outpost and community space for the Evanston area. A 2002 album paying tribute to King Records’ artists and recordings was titled Hidden Treasures; nearly 20 years later, King’s crucial history is no longer a buried secret. King’s importance in bridging musical styles like R&B, Country and Rock & Roll is now far more widely acknowledged and its hometown is making sure that it will remain a living, breathing entity for years to come.

Before Jacob Trevino moved to Cincinnati, we were bereft of whimsical pop-culture bars. But since 2015, he and his Gorilla Cinema Presents company have innovated the bar industry by opening The Shining-themed The Overlook Lodge, the Quentin Tarantino-themed The Video Archive and downtown’s Lost in Translation-esque karaoke bar Tokyo Kitty. For Halloween this year, The Video Archive transformed into Yuletide Nightmare, a The Nightmare Before Christmas pop-up, replete with cocktails named after the film’s characters — like Oogie Boogie and Dr. Finkelstein — and scenes from the film shown on a loop. They even made a cocktail with a divisive candy corn syrup, as well as one served in a “skull.” (It wasn’t a real skull.) In November and December, Overlook became Miracle, a holiday-themed pop-up, serving cocktails inspired by classic Christmas films, like Bad Santa and Die Hard, with ingredients including pumpkin pie spice, gingerbread syrup and warm milk. The Video Archive, 965 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills, gorillacinemapresents.com/archive; The Overlook Lodge, 6083 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, thatshiningbar.com.

Aimed at children ages 3-7, each of the seven silly tracks on The Corner — a Hip Hop-flavored album project from Vernard Fields, Adam Hayden and Charlie Padgett that includes a beautifully illustrated book — is a different vignette dealing with fundamental early life lessons, such as on “Pick Up Your Towel” and “We Like to Share.” While the music is expertly crafted to grab and keep the attention of little ones, adults will likely love it just as much. The creators made a study guide to encourage educators to use the project as a unique way to reach children, and parents will appreciate the obvious talent and musicianship poured into the music, which has the feel of J Dilla or A Tribe Called Quest. If you have young kids who get fixated on, say, Barney or The Wiggles, and you want to shake up the playlist for the sake of your own sanity, revel in the sweet salvation of The Corner, which is available digitally or in vinyl and CD versions packaged with the book. The Corner, thecorner.us.